Berkeley Zen Center

Continuous Practice - Why and How

Lecture by Sojun Roshi given during Rohatsu Sesshin, Day Six, 1997

This lecture is reprinted from the October 2002 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.

Today is the sixth day of our seven-day Rohatsu sesshin. We have been sitting zazen, doing kinhin, eating meals, cooking meals, and serving each other. Moment after moment we've been dealing with our silent dramas, dealing with our not-so-silent dramas, with our complaints and our doubts. This is continuous practice, a very concentrated time of continuous practice. During this time, two questions come up.

One is "Why?" and the other is "How?"

So in a sense we are always involved in "formal practice;" in coursing through the emptiness of all forms.

Sesshin is pretty difficult. It's difficult to stay in our seat, dealing with painful legs, painful mind, listening to the loop of our thoughts continually going round and round. It's sometimes difficult accepting the various emotions that come up. It's difficult just settling our self on the self, without getting caught by emotion, thought, or painful legs, without becoming attached to any nice states of mind which might occasionally appear.

The state of mind one seeks in zazen is no special state of mind. When we first read about meditation, it's very intriguing. We're lured into this activity hoping to reach nirvana. We don't understand that nirvana is the pain in our legs. Too bad!

So it's natural to look for something special to bring home. We sit here for a week and say, "What happened?" Nothing happened. It all went by in a moment. "What did I get, after seven days?" Nothing. Just painful legs. So the sesshin state of mind is no particular state of mind. What we get is…no special thing. If you got something, that might be a mistake. Be careful!

This is seven days of letting go. Seven days of dropping. Seven days of non-clinging. Seven days of not discriminating. Seven days of allowing whatever state of mind is present to be present. Seven days of not chasing away evil thoughts, not coveting good thoughts, not grasping wonderful states of mind, not rejecting painful states of mind. Just being present with whatever is present. That's all. The most difficult thing of all is just to stay in your seat.

We're always moving around. That's our life. Life doesn't stand still. We look for the next comfortable position, the next interesting thing. It's very hard to stay were we are, to stay in one place.

So we have these two questions. First, "Why do we do this?" When we start to sit, we instinctively know why. It's beyond our reasoning but somewhere, we know. Knowing knows. When we start to reason about it, we don't know anymore. We try to match our reasoning with our knowing, and it brings up this question, especially when we get into a difficult spot. It's like taking a boat ride. We know we enjoy going out in the boat, but then a big storm comes up. Pretty soon, the boat's leaning over and the sails are starting to rip; the waves are coming over the gunnels. We say, "Why did we ever do this?" But it doesn't help. The real question is: "How do I deal with this?"

"How" is the practice question. "Why?" is valid, but it's secondary to "How?" Take your life, for example. "Why was I born?" It doesn't matter! Here you are. The real question is: "How do I live in this life?" How do I deal with this situation?

When we hold this question of "How?" that's continuous practice. You can deal with "Why?" until you get tired of that and turn to "How?" "How do I do this?" That is the koan of your life.

Occasionally, someone will ask me," "How can I be a good zen student?" Invariably I say, "Just keep that question. It's a great question. Keep that question in all your activity."

How do I do what's in front of me? How do I practice, moment to moment? We're not seeking something far off. We're seeking to know, "How do I stand in this place right now? How do I sit in this spot right now?" Totally! This is not just about sitting zazen but about walking, eating, moving. How do I harmonize body-mind with the universe? That's our practice. When we sit, we harmonize body and mind with the universe, without discriminating, without picking and choosing. How do we harmonize the intellect with the heart? Where is the center of our being?

When we find our center, our heart, then the mind is under control. If the mind is not under the control of the heart, it becomes divorced from humanity. It begins to exaggerate its own importance and can become what we call "evil". Comic books are archetypal stories which represent the real battles of our time. Batman, Superman, Spiderman. In comic books, there is always an evil one with a big head. He has all the technical control at his command. The hero has spiritual strength. This battle between the head and heart is actually the battle of our time, between the forces of technology--of expanding brainpower, and the spirit struggling to bring these under control. The tensions of our time arise because technology and brainpower are easily cut off from the heart, from the solar plexus, from the vital center.

In comic books, the hero is always trying to keep it together. This same battle goes on in each one of us. How can we keep the mind, the heart and all the other satellites in harmony? When the mind is divorced from our vital center, it leads to cunning, to domination and unrest. The world is in a state of terrible unrest and getting worse all the time. Zen practice is to harmonize the mind, and keep it under control so that it can work in harmony with the heart and the rest of the body. The mind should be working for humanity, not just for its own satisfaction.

We sit up straight, harmonizing all this in one act. We don't care so much about intellectual speculation; instead we care about being grounded. Even Buddhist speculation is not so important. Buddhist philosophy is fine if you're grounded, but the first thing is to be grounded. The first order of practice is always to be grounded. When you pick up a cup of tea, pick up the cup with both hands. Drink the tea with no separation between you and the cup and the tea. The cup is not an object. The tea is not an object. There are no objects.

When we let go of everything, no one thing stands out. The center of your self is the center of everything. When we sit zazen, we bring the whole world into harmony. This is called "saving all beings." Even though people are still out there killing each other, the influence of your continuous practice has far-reaching effects which you can never know. As long as individuals are out of balance, the world will be out of balance. In order to bring the world into balance, we start with ourselves. This is our way of saving beings. This is what we've been doing all week.

 

Last revised 10/19/02. Copyright 2000 Berkeley Zen Center.
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